Knowing what to do and how to do it is a problem for everyone [believer or nonbeliever]. I have had times in my life when I was so confused that I just wanted someone, anyone to give me a direction. Please lay out a plan for me. I know I want to do something but what comes first? How can I accomplish a goal? What is the first step, the second step…any step?
I bet you have times like that too.
I have been around “driven” people but even they get off their target from time to time.
For the Christian, feeling a lack of guidance can be a serious problem.
Why would I say that; why is it so serious for Christians to be confused about what to do?
Here it is:
We are promised by God that He will guide us, all of us, all of the time.
All we have to do is follow His lead.
In previous posts, I have written about inward promptings from sources outside of God’s word and how people need to rely on the Bible for guidance.* I have written about God’s help with what Packer calls “vocational choices” and how we can fail to listen to those choices [six pitfalls].**
Now it is time to address another concern, another “perplexity” that can cause us to be confused about God’s guidance.
It is time to take action toward accomplishing a goal and we have prayed about what to do, we have waited patiently for God to give some direction. We feel He has given us a positive sign and we are heading toward our goal, what Packer calls “setting off along the road which God seems to indicate.”
Then problems occur, difficult problems, problems which cause us to doubt God.
Let’s take some examples that Packer cites from the Bible as times when God puts problems “in the roadway.”
God guided Israel from Egypt into a long journey that was fraught with trouble. There was the Red Sea crossing. There were frustrating days without food and water in the desert. There were battles with the tribes of Amalek, lack of passage from King Sihon, and battles with the Amorite King Og. The Israelite people grumbled and wondered about the wisdom of God’s guidance.
Packer cites Jesus taking His disciples out on the Sea of Galilee two times in bad weather. Jesus commanded the weather but they probably wondered about His guidance. Why did He put them in danger?
The apostle Paul followed the urging of the Holy Spirit even though he knew he was headed for problems. In Acts, he says to the Ephesian elders “I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” [20: 23-23]. He was of course a man of great faith but there were bound to be moments of doubt about God’s guidance and maybe self-doubts. Do I really want to go to prison? Do I really want to be afflicted?
What are some common problems that make a person doubt God’s guidance?
First, there is isolation. It takes fortitude to follow God sometimes. I have found that Christians can be confronted with isolation as they try to do God’s will but His will is very different from commonly accepted practices in society. I hate to use the terms but detractors can use damaging words behind our backs like “holier than thou” to get a Christian back into the mainstream of “the world.” I have found that people don’t want to feel guilty about their behavior and someone who does right by God may cause that conviction in others. Isolation is hard to deal with as a believer follows God’s urging and loses contact with friends and even family.
Sometimes it is even worse treatment. Isolation is bad enough but open criticism may even be worse. It is more transparent than isolation but direct words of criticism can really be hurtful. You know how others feel and they are not happy. Their criticisms may even make you doubt that you are doing the right thing. Here is a good example. I had a family member criticize me for wanting to go to church. They said I was neglecting the family by doing so. I should not be so dedicated to worshipping God. From my point of view, I did not feel like I was neglecting anyone or anything. I did not appreciate being criticized, having to make a choice between my church family and my relatives.
Practical frustrations can also be major reasons for doubt. Packer cites a dramatic case of Elisabeth Elliot, who was a widow of a missionary. She felt called to travel to Ecuador to work on translating the Bible for an Ecuadorian tribe. Practical frustrations got in the way. She had a helper who not only spoke Spanish but was also a Christian. That was the only way she could accomplish her goals for translation and existing in the country. Within a month, this man was murdered. She continued trying to work on her translating, compiling an impressive file of translated Scripture. Her file was stolen. She had no copy. She made a valiant effort to do the work but she had to stop. Too many practical frustrations…
Why do people who begin their work for God have to suffer through isolation? Why do people who begin their work for God have to deal with openly critical words from others? Why do people who begin their work for God have practical frustrations that can stop them dead in their tracks?
I don’t know…
Elizabeth Elliot did not know either. She said in her book Eternity “If you are thinking that you know the will of God for your life and you are anxious to do that, you are probably in for a rude awakening because nobody knows the will of God for their entire life” .
Perhaps problems can strengthen our faith, strengthen our will to do God’s work. Perhaps problems can cause us to doubt God and He wants us to deal with that doubt. Perhaps God only wanted us to go so far and then He wanted us to stop and go no further. Maybe someone else will come along and finish the work.
None of us knows the answer but after we receive His guidance, the pathway is not always clear toward accomplishing God’s work.
Here is what Packer says about this dilemma: “God’s guidance, which brings us out of darkness into light, will also bring us out of light into darkness” .
That might not be very reassuring, but it is part of living as a Christian. There will be times of great glory for God and there will be times when we walk in the “valley of the shadow of death.”
This last expression that Packer leaves us with is laden with all kinds of symbolism but maybe it is the best answer we will ever receive about this dilemma.
“It is the way of the cross” …
Lyrics from “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back.
The world before, the cross before me
No turning back, no turning back.
Tho’ none go with me, still I will follow
No turning back, no turning back.
*”God’s Help on Our Journey” June 14, 2020 St.JohnStudies.com
**”God’s Guidance: Packer’s Six Pitfalls” June 21, 2020 St.JohnStudies.com